Healthy through winter with ancient Chinese medicine wisdom
Winter has well and truly arrived in Sydney!
With its cooler temperatures and shorter days, it is considered a time for turning inwards, to rest and replenish. As in many ancient cultures, the Chinese of old lived in harmony with the seasons; rising early in spring and summer to go out into the fields, to sow and to be active. As the seasons turned from the sunny and hot Yang energy of summer into autumn, a time of harvest and preparations for winter began. In winter then we are advised to go to bed early and wake late; meaning to just sleep more hours of the day than in summer. While in the modern world we have heated houses and electricity, allowing us to live out of tune with the seasons; if we are striving for health and longevity, we would be wise to learn from the wisdom of old.
Make sure to dress appropriately for the weather as cold can invade the body, causing all sorts of problems: from the common cold to joint pain to pathogen that can lodge deep in the body and cause chronic illness later in life.
Eating with the seasons does not just include focusing on what is grown locally at any given time. It also means to ditch those salads for some warm hearty home-cooked meals such as soups and stews. Each season is related to an organ in Chinese medicine and winter time relates to the kidneys. The kidneys are the primal source of energy, the qi and life force given to us at birth. That is why in winter when we turn inwards, we focus on nourishing and replenishing this vital source of our energy by reducing activities, resting and focusing on spiritual activity and meditation.
The flavour of the kidney is salty. Energetically this has a downwards movement and can help leading warmth deeper and lower into the body for storage and regeneration. While there are concerns related to the overconsumption of salt, the addition of salt in its natural and unprocessed state rich in minerals – such as sea salt or Himalayan salt – can greatly enhance a wholesome stew in this way. Salty foods including miso, soy sauce and seaweeds used in moderation can all provide a healthy addition to your winter cooking repertoire.
The colour of the kidneys is black and therefore black foods, such as black sesame seeds or beans are considered to be good for the kidneys. Their energy is that of the water element and the kidneys play a major role in water metabolism throughout the body. While the Yin energy is more grounding and material, its opposite, the Yang energy, is more fire and energetic. The kidneys balance both and so – as well as being cooling and grounding – also present a source of warmth for the body.
When these energies are out of balance, symptoms of either Yin or Yang deficiency can arise. People with a propensity for weak Yin often present with lower back pain and week legs, dizziness, spontaneous sweating and dryness of the mouth and throat. Foods considered to be nurturing for bodily Yin include millet, barley, tofu, most beans, blackberries and blueberries, seaweed, spirulina, chlorella, black sesame seeds and pork. Some of these, such as spirulina or chlorella, can be quite cold and problematic for people with a weak digestion. They are therefore to be consumed with caution, in small amounts and for limited periods of time only.
Yang deficiency is a lack of warmth and active energy and signs pointing towards it include easily feeling cold, a pale complexion, irregular menstrual cycles and a tendency towards inactivity. Moderate amounts of warming spices can help to gently nourish the kidney Yang energy; but caution is recommended as too much warmth added to food can create stagnated heat. Cloves, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds, black peppercorn, ginger, cinnamon and onion are some good choices that are easily found in any supermarket. Cinnamon, for example, can be added to a bowl of hot porridge in the morning and with the simple addition of blackberries and blueberries a boost for your Yin element can be included. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
Done in the right way, food can be a powerful medicine that can help to gently guide a body back to balance. Self-diagnosis can be tricky and seeing a qualified practitioner for diagnosis is recommended. As a qualified Chinese medicine practitioner, I can give you guidance on dietary choices and use acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine to support you in getting through the winter healthily; even coming out stronger on the other side, ready for the growth of Yang energy and all the activities that spring will bring.
Dr Jacqueline Barnett (BTCM) is an AHPRA registered Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbal practitioner with a particular passion for digging deeper into the mind-body connection. She holds a Bachelor of Traditional Chinese Medicine from Sydney Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine and is also a registered Arvigo® therapy practitioner.
Make an appointment today to see Jacqueline and discuss how she can help get you back to optimum health.